The Synergies of Civilization

in Ancient Mesopotamia at the Dawn of Civilization

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print November 2008 | ISBN: 9780226013770
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226013787 | DOI:
The Synergies of Civilization

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  • Ancient History (Non-Classical, to 500 CE)


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This chapter argues that the environmental and geographical advantages accruing to southern Mesopotamian societies and the increases in the density and agglomeration of populations in the alluvium throughout the Uruk period that were selected for by those natural advantages represent necessary but insufficient conditions for the Sumerian takeoff. The sufficient conditions were organizational innovations within the nascent city-states of southern Mesopotamian that fall entirely within the realm of Cronon's “created landscape.” Most important among these were new forms of organizing labor that delivered economies of scale in the production of subsistence and industrial commodities to southern societies; and new forms of record keeping that were much more capable of conveying information across time and space than the simpler reckoning systems used by contemporary polities elsewhere. These innovations furnished early Sumerian leaders and polities of the fourth millennium with what turned out to be their most important competitive advantages over neighboring societies.

Keywords: environment; geography; southern Mesopotamia; Uruk period; alluvium; created landscape; labor organizing; subsistence; record keeping

Chapter.  6300 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ancient History (Non-Classical, to 500 CE)

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